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Virtual i.Lab Removes Geographical Boundaries

Monday, July 11, 2016  
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The University of Virginia’s i.Lab is a University-wide initiative that creates a relationship for entrepreneurship and innovation education. Its summer incubator program for new ventures and its resources for growing start-ups, has helped Charlottesville reputation as a growing hub of entrepreneurship. But UVA’s community of innovation extends far beyond the boundaries of Central Virginia, and now, the i.Lab does, too.

The “Virtual i.Lab” went live this summer, allowing entrepreneurs in the current incubator class to connect with UVA mentors and resources all around the world. The interactive digital platform is the brainchild of the new i.Lab Incubator director, Jason Brewster.

He saw an opportunity to expand members’ access to other innovators in the University community who may not be able to come to Charlottesville in person. The platform has its own direct chat feature, discussion forums, a video archive of mentor and participant presentations and a newsfeed of all the latest updates from the i.Lab. Users can also search the profiles of mentors and participants to find shared points of interest and experience.

“The group in the incubator is mostly here in person and they all know each other, but as the network recruits more and more mentors, we’re trying to position the platform to be this connective tissue back to the incubator program,” said Yates McCallum, the i.Lab’s virtual program coordinator. “It provides a window into the ventures, their curriculum and their status updates.”

In addition to connecting more mentors with incubator participants, the Virtual i.Lab also creates an institutional forum where UVA entrepreneurs can share their experiences and crowd-source advice on common challenges faced in the early stages of a new business.

The virtual platform has also made it possible to have a summer incubator team working outside of Charlottesville for the first time.Brewster is certain there will be more remote incubator ventures in the future, but they will be limited to companies like 1Degree that are dependent on a different geographical location to conduct their business. The heart of the i.Lab will remain in Charlottesville, while the Virtual i.Lab will help expand the network of UVA entrepreneurs and create a space where they can connect with each other.

“There are big aspirations for the platform and we see it becoming a nexus for entrepreneurs and people who are like-minded at UVA,” i.Lab Program Manager Sandra McCutcheon said. “It’s a work in progress, but our goal is to make it a world-class archive with information and resources for our ever-growing community of entrepreneurs.”

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